The Skinny

August 21st, 2014

Memphasis by Dan Conaway, Author’s Note, August 21, 2014:

The two of us were catching up.

He’s a key figure in a major initiative for this part of Tennessee, for this region, and the discussion was to be about a possible role in that initiative for me. When we were in a Leadership Memphis class together decades ago, that was the kind of meaningful discussion we thought we were meant to have.

The discussion was actually about skinny dipping.

That’s meaningful because even after all that we’ve both done since, we remember the class and what we saw in the city and in each other, and other things worthy of note.

And those meaningful discussions continue.

As published in The Daily News, August 22, 2014, and in The Memphis News, August 23-29, 2014

Elams Pond


Of the occasions I’ve been skinny dipping, two stand out. The first ended in an FBI interrogation and the other in front of a generation of city leaders.

The summer before my senior year in high school, a group of us made frequent trespasses to a secluded wet spot on a farm off Winchester. Elam’s Pond has long since been lost to progress and the airport, the girls and boys who splashed there those bright afternoons have long since become fully-clothed and responsible adults – well, fully-clothed anyway.

One particular afternoon, I saw something unusual beneath the mimosa trees on the far side of the pond – an abandoned Corvette convertible with four flat tires and out-of-state plates. When I got home, I called the cops and told them about it. The next morning, Dad woke me up with an invitation to join him in the living room. Waiting were two dark-suited, sun-glassed FBI agents – remember Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.? – being beseeched by my mother, “But he’s a good boy – a good boy!”

Seems when a teenager reports a stolen car; the primary suspect is that teenager.

The summer of 1982, my Leadership Memphis class held their closing retreat at Pickwick Landing. We were the fourth class and after I related the story of a previous retreat that ended in late night skinny dipping, the entire class enthusiastically headed for the dock to continue the tradition. Leaving our clothes in a quick pile, two of us – she will remain nameless because you know it ­– were in the lake almost immediately. As it turns out, the other 48 remained ashore; content to have us represent the class in the water and, judging from their laughter, quite happy about it. We swam a bit down the bank to a lonelier, darker dock and eased out of the water with a wide-eyed fisherman’s help – his jacket, and those wide eyes, went to her and I got a tarp.

Seems leading by example doesn’t necessarily cause everyone to follow.

However, I was subsequently elected alumni president and we both went on the board. After all, we had absolutely nothing to hide.

The point – you were wondering if there was one  – is the freedom, the awareness, the empowerment that come from loss of pretense, from knowing exactly who and what you’re dealing with, and knowing that they know that about you, too.

That little group at the pond left their teenage angst, their concern about how they looked and who was watching, on the bank for a little while and became themselves.

That Leadership Memphis class began clothed in their respective colors and attitudes, dressed to the nines in custom-fit roles and tailored assumptions. By the closing retreat, all of that had changed because our view had changed, all of us able to see past the surface trappings. 

We could see the whole city, warts and all, and we could see us in it together.

I’m a Memphian, and you haven’t seen it until you’ve seen it all.


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

The book is available all over town – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look.

Soon to be released as an audio book. Listen for it.



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